Kansas already has recorded its most victories in a season since reaching the 2003 NCAA title game, but they’re looking for more.
The second-ranked Jayhawks look to advance to the Big 12 championship game when they play Kansas State in the semifinals on Saturday in Oklahoma City.
The Jayhawks (28-4) overcame a sluggish first half to beat Oklahoma 64-47 in Friday’s first quarterfinal, giving coach Bill Self his 100th victory at the school as Kansas advanced to the semifinals for the 10th time in the conference’s 11 seasons.
The top-seeded Jayhawks, who won the Big 12 title last season and have four championships, have never lost their opening tournament game, going 11-0 since the conference was formed in 1996-97.
Thanks to a nine-game winning streak, Kansas already has topped its win total from each of the previous three seasons - under Roy Williams, it won 30 games in 2003 before losing 81-78 to Syracuse in the NCAA championship game in the second of back-to-back Final Four appearances.
Brandon Rush had 16 points Friday and the Jayhawks used an 18-2 run early in the second half to take control. They led by as many as 24 points and held Oklahoma to just one basket in the first 15:50 of the final half.
Rush started the run with a reverse layup, added a 3-pointer and two free throws, then capped it with a steal and a breakaway dunk.
“When he is aggressive, he gives us a whole different dimension because he can get an easy basket getting to the rack or he can make three or four 3s in a 10-minute stretch,” Self said. “He just wasn’t doing that at all the first half.”
While the Jayhawks came out hot, making 9-of-11 shots at one point, they also tightened up on defense. Kansas held the Sooners to just four second-half field goals—the fewest it has allowed an opponent since Jan. 24, 1998, when Texas Tech also had four in the first half.
The Jayhawks improved to 15-0 this season when holding opponents under 60 points.
Kansas’ path to the title game may have gotten easier, even though Kansas State routed Texas Tech 66-45 in another quarterfinal on Friday. The Jayhawks lost to fifth-seeded Texas Tech on Jan. 20, but won both regular season meetings with the fourth-seeded Wildcats (22-10) in coach Bob Huggins’ first season in Manhattan, and have dominated their in-state rival.
Kansas has won 34 of the last 35 games in the lopsided series, including a 5-0 record in the Big 12 tournament. If the Jayhawks win again on Saturday, they’ll also put a major dent in Kansas State’s chances of earning an NCAA bid.
The Wildcats alternated wins and losses in their last eight games to close the regular season, though they did their part to impress the NCAA selection committee on Friday against the Red Raiders, another team that is fighting for a berth.
Lance Harris scored 20 points off the bench and Kansas State held Texas Tech to 32.1 percent shooting from the field, giving the Wildcats their most victories in a season since winning 25 in 1987-88.
“We feel pretty confident,” Wildcats forward Cartier Martin said of his team’s NCAA chances. “We think we are a good team and we are supposed to be in it. But you know, it’s not our decision. The next step is not up to us.
“We are going to try to continue to win. We got Kansas tomorrow, so we are looking to play against those guys.”
This is Kansas State’s first appearance in the semifinals since 1999 when it lost to Kansas 69-58. The Wildcats are trying for their first championship game appearance since 1993, when they lost to Missouri in the old Big Eight Conference.